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What makes someone write a perverted version of fairytales for children?

I know about the sinfulness of human nature; why can’t I get used to it?

By on Friday, 10 December 2010

A book of Grimm fairytales presented at an exhibition in Germany (Photo: PA)

A book of Grimm fairytales presented at an exhibition in Germany (Photo: PA)

There are some newspaper stories which are at the same time amusing (because of the kicking-in of the classic comic mechanism of the humour which derives from some gross incongruity) and utterly appalling. Such was the Daily Telegraph story a day or two ago, headlined “Chinese publisher releases erotic fairytales by mistake”, with the explanatory standfirst: “A Chinese publisher has been forced to recall a collection of Grimm’s Fairy Tales after mistakenly translating an erotic Japanese version of the stories.”
“Red-faced executives at Beijing Mediatime, the publishing house,” the report continues, “said a mix up had occurred when they could not find the original German version of the book to translate, and had turned to a Japanese version instead. Around 150 copies of the book were sold in Hangzhou before complaints from customers led to the recall.”

The example given by the Telegraph was the story of Snow White, in which, as the reporter coyly put it, “she romps with the seven dwarves”. This rang a bell: many years ago, in the very early days of videotapes and of places you could go to hire them, I went into such a shop to ask if they had suitable tapes for children. “Oh no,” said the man, “we don’t do stuff like that. It’s all adult in here.” I was an Anglican clergyman at the time, and dressed in clericals. I was unaware then of the new meaning of the word “adult”. What about this one, I said, picking up a tape bearing the title “Snow White’s sister and the seven dwarves”. “No, no,” said the man; “that’s not for you, reverend.” I looked at the blurb on the tape and saw what he meant; then made a somewhat red-faced retreat.
What is the explanation for such stuff? What on earth gave some nasty Japanese writer the idea of actually sitting down to write erotic versions of stories intended for children? And what induced a publisher actually to put them on the market? Am I being naïf? Many fairy stories have their dark side, the point being that they confront children’s fears by giving them a happy ending after all the dark and frightening episodes, in gloomy forests and giants’ castles and other scary places; but this is dark in a quite different and surely destructive way.

The fact is that these stories exist to preserve children’s innocence, by giving them positive expectations without attempting to shield them by not taking their anxieties seriously. Such stories are intended for children: there is surely something utterly foul about the very idea of systematically rewriting them in an erotic version, thus either excluding the children for whom they were originally written, or else – do you suppose? – imaginatively including them in some horrible way. There is some kind of perversion at work here, but what is it? Is it a form of paedophilia? The point is that I don’t know: there are perversions of the human psyche on which one just can’t pronounce, because one can’t get inside them, one can’t get one’s head around them.
All I know is that human nature is a strange and problematic phenomenon. But then, I’m a Catholic – I was supposed to know that already. Why is it that I just can’t quite get used to it?

  • Richard Collins

    It is a trait of the Japanese character that has a fascination for the extreme of sexual portrayal. It is commonplace to have masses of racks of comics portraying women being mutilated and tortured. It is further indicated by their delight in television game shows where candidates are abused and humiliated.
    I might add that there are many redeeming qualities in the Japanese psyche and I have enjoyed working there in the past.

  • paulsays

    Whatever turns people on, I agree it is strange but I don't see it being immoral as long as no one gets hurt.

  • paulsays

    I would hope it doesn't portray children either

  • blostopher

    That “it is commonplace to have masses of racks of comics portraying women being mutilated and tortured” and traditional fairy tales for children whose stories are perverted in the manner described are concrete signs of our fallen world.

    God bless you for NOT being “used to it”.

  • paulsays

    fallen world? I'm not saying there is not any unpleasant material like this, or unpleasant behavior, however to say that this is signs of our 'fallen world' is surely overeating.

    Its certainly not like anything was better in the past; granted there are some odd and perhaps disturbing sexual practices, but considering that our life expectancy, literacy rates and eradication of diseases such as polio and tuberculosis have all improved so much in the 20th Century, I think the human race is doing quite well. As a nation we also give more in terms of GDP in charity then we ever have in our history before.

  • Toby

    A strange definition of morality – perhaps you'll define “hurt”? The corruption of people's minds, would that count? The erosion of common values? A constant desire to push the boundaries ever further?

  • W Oddie

    You don't think there's anything wrong or immoral in there being a climate of opinion in which there are “masses of racks of comics portraying women being mutilated and tortured”? Dear God! Nothing immoral “as long as no one gets hurt”? But of course, in such an atmosphere people WILL get hurt: if it's thought to be normal and acceptable it won't just be a harmless fantasy. IT WILL HAPPEN. “Whatever turns people on” indeed: what kind of utter simpleton are you?

  • W Oddie

    Oh, really: you do, do you? But what if “nobody gets hurt”? I thought that would be ok?

  • Saxotelephone

    Surely fairy tales are about exploration of human nature? There's a difference between 'modern re imagining of a fairy tale' and 'porn', and it's probably best for the sake of literature not to confuse the two. Modern retellings of the classic stories are often more interesting as they subvert the established tropes of the originals – it's hardly immoral. Children's shows being parodied as porn is an entirely separate issue.

  • paulsays

    people are very reactionary and unable to see nuance such as this, thank you for such clarity on the issue

  • paulsays

    Before jumping to any conclusions and insulting me please realize that I was not commenting on the Japanese magazines, I was talking about the story books in your article. I do find the extreme Japanese pornography disturbing (although it is unlikely to be real torture), but not so much these story books that I have no qualms with. Explained?

  • paulsays

    Plenty of Victorian erotic literature much much more explicit then this story book.
    This is just another form of sexual fantasy, and as long as it does not include any child characters then I cannot find an issue with it. Your personal level of disbelief or disgust is not a definition of morality.
    Define corruption
    Define common values
    If you don't explain what you mean, and instead us universal/generic terms such as these that have little definable meaning it is hard to debate what you are saying.
    If you can think of specific arguments against the material in the article then we can discuss it. :)

  • paulsays

    It would be promoting hurtful behavior, so my logic still stands up. In the same way as documents the National Front didn't directly harm anyone, they incited hatred and violence and therefore also were immoral. If you want to nitpick I can change my position to:

    'as long as it doesn't hurt anyone; encourage or give rise to thoughts that could lead to the harm of others'

    happy now? doesn't quite have the same ring anymore does it. I'm not saying anything goes, far from it, but in cases in which no physical or mental harm could occur what would be the problem? (I'm talking specifics not generalities) because I would be interested to hear them.

  • Toby

    I am not dealing with specific examples in the article, I am responding to your bizarre definition of immorality.
    Your request that I define corruption and common values beautifully illustrates one of the tragedies of modern-day Britain. The “I should be free to do whatever I want to do; so long as it does not harm anyone else” warped notion of freedom, means that we have no common morality, just a dwindling acknowledgement of the reality of objective truths. The rejection of universal meaning of terms for whatever I want it to mean (in some sort of Alice in Wonderland fantasy) actually inhibits our ability to communicate with one another.

    I would say it is harmful to someone to introduce warped, violent images into their head. Yes, they have a choice about whether to reenact these scenes themselves, but would it not be better for them if they did not have the images to recall. Nobody is harmed in making the Saw films; nobody is physically harmed in watching them, however, is it not worrying that people derive entertainment from watching this horrific violence explicitly portrayed?
    Just because we have next to no censorship anymore does not mean that everything can can be done in the arts should be done.

  • paulsays

    'I would say it is harmful to someone to introduce warped, violent images into their head. Yes, they have a choice about whether to reenact these scenes themselves, but would it not be better for them if they did not have the images to recall' I DO include mental hurt or damage in my definition. So showing a Saw film to a child of 14 could be considered moral even if they didn't physically get hurt.

    In my brief comment about the story book I was really only looking at the specific case in point. I realize that it doesn't fit all cases perfectly. In the same way that objective morals always have flaws, no one system is good at explaining the best human behavior in a situation.

  • ks

    I would think that it is a serious form of paedophilia in that it silently slips into people's minds (which i think is worse). I am using the word 'people' loosely. Do you think those 150 copies that were sold was an error or it was a sick way of testing the market? Did all 150 customers complain?

  • Penny

    Just to point out: fairytales were not written for children but folktales shared between adults and you’ve clearly not read Grimms where there is lechery and violence abound! Old French fairytales are the worst, try researching the first version of Little Red: she eats the Grandmother…. Your basic point stands however.